Thursday, July 4, 2024

“They Try to Kill Me” • by Jason Lairamore

I made a mistake and got drunk tonight, and now I might die. 

The thought doesn’t bother me like I know it should, though. My gun, a Colt Peacemaker I’d bought back in 1877, is in my hand, and its barrel is slowly making its way to my face. I could cry out for help. There are people aplenty, circus performers like me, outside my tent that would rush in fast at my call. I giggle like one of the dancing girls instead as the gun inches closer.

The gun fires before completing its arc. Pain flares in my left ear and I yelp. I drop the gun and fall to the dirt all in one motion. My ears ring as I stagger to my feet.

The little tent I call home isn’t much. There’s room enough for a chair, a cot and a little folding table. I see the crumpled form laying half on my cot and half on the ground right away. All I can tell from the soft glow of my little hanging lamp is that it is a woman with dark hair wearing a long, black dress. She must have been standing behind me the whole time.

I don’t have to think too hard—which is lucky, given my state of inebriation—to figure out what had happened. A damned Witch had tried to kill me. Luckily, some of my more useful skills had kicked in by reflex, or I’d have been a goner.

A commotion is going on outside. There are a lot of people out there and they don’t sound happy. Well, that makes two of us. I can’t believe I let a Witch come so close to doing me in. My old teacher, Ramos, bless his ancient soul, would have been ashamed.

“The man’s a cheat!” a voice calls from outside my tent.

“He assaulted me!” a woman shrieks.

The tension from all those angry souls pushes in tight against the walls of my tent. I am surrounded by it.

What now?

I touch the notch the bullet has left in my ear and examine the blood stains on my shirt. It’d have to wait. The wave of angst out there is about to crest, and I don’t want to be in its way when it comes crashing down. Grabbing the lamp from its hook, I step outside. Drunk or not, I am going to have to get myself out of this.

A veritable throng of townspeople are mere steps away from my tent flap, and all of them are yelling at the top of their lungs as if the world is on fire and it is my fault. They are really whipped up into a frenzy. None even carry so much as a lamp to guide their way. And, looking around, I don’t see any of my fellow performers. Odd, all around, but I had expected no less.

The noise they make is too loud for me to use any of my voice techniques, so I just hook my lamp to the nail on the central tent support and set it swinging at just the right speed. The wobbling light goes unnoticed, and so does my crouched escape. I just make it past the edges of their circle when the closest of them begins to rip my tent apart.

A hand latches onto my arm. It is our young Ringmaster, Tom Jeers.

“How did you do that?”

I don’t ask him what he was doing there when the others of our troupe hadn’t bothered. Nor do I ask him why he hadn’t helped to save me from a lynch mob that’d been salivating for my blood. It no longer matters. The damage had been done. I have to leave.

My focus is on the woods lining our camp. I ignore Tom as I scan. Red eyes, white eyes, purple eyes. It looks like every gremlin and boogieman in the county has come to watch me die.

I shiver, despite the warmth of the summer night.

“Ellis?” Tom asks. His voice is full of concern, but I don’t think it has anything to do with my well-being.

I say a few words to Tom, a little forget-me spell that’d saved my skin a time or two in the past. Tom frowns and I say it again. He releases my arm and I slip off into the trees.

I’m not worried about the little devils and whatnot hiding away in the wood. They don’t see each other any better than people see them, and I can handle any of them on a one-on-one basis. They had simply felt the power of some spells and had come running to watch the show.

That the Witches had not only found me, but had pulled off a multi-layered, coven-intensive strike, and all without my foreknowledge, makes me sick.

Maybe I am getting too old for this. Maybe I should cut back on the booze.

No. That isn’t it. I know what I need to do and it is past time that I do it.

I turn around and head back to the circus. Young Tom Jeers would do fine. The boy has a lot of innate skill. I’d noticed it the first day I joined the troupe a few years back. All he needs is training. I’d promised Ramos long ago that’d I'd pass along what he’d taught me and I’d been putting it off.

If I get sloppy like this again, it could mean my skin. The unseen world out there would love nothing better than for humanity to lose the selective arts. Their realm is the shadows and they are selfish of their turf. Already there are too few of us left. And those remaining are being pushed further and further away from normal society. I fear the day when man is left without a link to that world, and fear more that those days are already upon us.




Jason Lairamore
is a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror who lives in Oklahoma with his beautiful wife and their three monstrously marvelous children. He is a 2024 Jim Baen Memorial Award finalist and a 2023 Baen Fantasy Adventure Award finalist. He has won Writer of the Future honors with sixteen honorable mentions, one silver honorable mention, and a semi-finalist placement. His work is both featured and forthcoming in over 100 publications to include Neo-OpsisNew MythsStupefying Stories, and Third Flatiron publications, to name a few.